In the first game of Day 5 of the LCS summer split, TSM found themselves going up against Golden Guardians. TSM was coming off of their biggest win of 2022– an upset victory over Team Liquid. Meanwhile, Golden Guardians were treading water, a 1-3 start with little-to-no positives to work from.
All signs pointed to TSM winning, cementing their status as “back.” They would potentially be over .500 for the first time in 2022. It would mark the official start of a potential second MVP campaign for Mingyi “Spica” Lu. He was leading a group of misfits on the redemption road.
And of course, that didn’t happen. TSM is not back. The team had no real counter to Golden Guardians’ brilliant draft of a Senna – Dr Mundo bottom lane. But, Spica did participate in all five of TSM’s kills. What if TSM didn’t get “draft diff’d?” Would Spica have won them the game?
The 2022 spring split was not the split Spica was looking for following his MVP campaign in 2021 summer. It was a split that saw him record the second most deaths among junglers, average early game deficits and a lack of impact in the games entirely. It was a split where fans began to raise questions about his abilities to be a franchise jungler and questioned if he was actually the player he was hyped up to be. Antics on social media, being verbally connected to the “old era” of TSM trashing the franchise. It all combined into this generally unpleasant experience.
He’s trying to change that narrative.
Individually, Spica has started off the summer split well. Among junglers, he has the second largest participation percentage in his team’s kills (79.6%), he’s averaging the third-highest gold difference at ten minutes (+197) and the fourth-highest damage per minute (334).
The problem is that you can’t really distinguish how good he really is.
Since joining TSM, Spica has played to his team’s level. When he is playing with great players, he has looked great. And when his team isn’t all there, flaws in his style of play show or he seemingly disappears off the rift.
In his MVP season — arguably one of the weirdest MVP seasons given the factoring of two splits, TSM’s team effort won them games. They would have the second-best overall record in the spring season, combined with tying with Evil Geniuses and 100 Thieves for the best overall record in the summer split. But looking at the statistics, you wouldn’t have guessed TSM was at the top of the table.
|Rank among LCS Teams in Summer 2021||Rank among LCS Teams in Spring 2021|
|GD @ 15||+113||5th||+129||4th|
He also wasn’t statistically outstanding.
|Spica Spring 2021||Spica Summer 2021|
|Avg Gold Difference @ 10||-38 (7th)||+52 (6th)|
|Avg Experience Difference @ 10||-52 (7th)||-37 (10th)|
|Avg Damage Per Minute||265 (9th)||355 (6th)|
|KDA||4.3 (3rd)||4.5 (2nd)|
|KP%||61.8% (9th)||72.2 (8th)|
|DTH%||17.5 (4th)||17.2 (3rd)|
|DMG %||14.9% (8th)||18% (6th)|
|GOLD %||18% (9th)||20.1 (6th)|
|First Blood %||17% (10th)||48% (3rd)|
The focus of his MVP campaign centered around the narrative of what the statistics couldn’t see — his influence to put the team in the best position possible, his in-game leadership, his communication, his execution. It was what made him the “key guy” to their 2022 line-up. Now being in a re-build situation, TSM wanted to put Spica in a position to be their franchise guy.
It was also a really important time in Spica’s career to have this moment. It is easy to forget that 2022 is his third consecutive year as the starting jungler for TSM. Time flies. It feels like it was just yesterday when he was shockingly promoted to the main roster for the 2019 summer post-season. With his contract set to expire in November of this year, he’s in a position to make a lot of money — whether it be through TSM or a potential future suitor looking for his services.
And in the spring split, a lot was learned what may be the best fit for him.
In his career, Spica has been reliant on the mid lane – jungle relationship. Understandably so — he has worked with two incredible mid laners in his career. And he learned from working with arguably the best mid laner in LCS history. He isn’t necessarily built to play with a learning mid laner. Zhu “Keaiduo” Xiong was a surprise selection for the starting mid lane role but was praised for his potential, hoping to grow with experience on the LCS stage. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case, he struggled to keep up with the competition. Whether it be through nerves of the reality of just where he is at in terms of his skill level, it was a blunder from TSM’s former front office.
Spica is also very vocal in times of unease. Comments on social media, private communications with public personalities that reveal information for their own personal gain displayed some of his immaturity.
But again, in the summer so far, he’s looked great.
With the arrival of Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang, the immediate improvement and understanding of what is going on in the game is apparent. In the opening game against 100 Thieves, Maple and Spica quickly react to an early gank and are able to turn it around in their favor.
He’s also been able to take advantage of early clearing tendencies from pro players. Against Immortals and the rookie jungler Shane Kenneth “Kenvi” Espinoza, Spica and TSM completely read the early game situation. Thanks to an early ward, TSM spot out the start to Kenvi’s jungle clear while Spica completes his clear leash-less. Immortals incorrectly predicts Spica is starting on the top of the map, pinging points of interest. Through an expert understanding of optimal clearing, Spica is able to match Kenvi’s jungle clear timing and is immediately able to recall and head to the bottom side of the map. Immortals are left scratching their heads as the top of TSM’s jungle is completely gone upon invading. It sets up a 4:27 first blood, where Kenvi is caught out by the lurking Spica.
Its the small things that separate good from great players.
Against Team Liquid, he would lose the early game jungle battle. Lucas “Santorin” Larsen would correctly read Spica’s pathing and beat him for the top side scuttle at 3:15. Santorin would once again beat him to the punch after the second jungle clear but TSM would trade Tactical’s life for that of Team Liquid’s support thanks to predictions on TL’s likely move. That game would also feature a fantastic mid-game skirmish performance from Spica and Maple to turn two bottom lane deaths into three Team Liquid deaths.
Spica’s contributed in the fourth most total kills among junglers (46) and the already mentioned 79.6% participation percentage in his team’s kills. Yet in a way, it still feels as if more is on the table for Spica.
The losses for TSM so far haven’t necessarily been attributed to his performance. There was the previously mentioned problematic draft, there have been moments where Edward “Tactical” Ra’s positioning continues to be a plague on his reputation and career and, Choi “Mia” Sang-in has shown very high highs and very disappointing lows.
And this creates an interesting conversation: if you had to lose, do you want to lose this way? Spica hasn’t necessarily proven his ability to put the team on his back. This isn’t an uncommon trait for North American junglers. In fact, it is something that has made the position so valuable and has arguably lead to the rise in value in players like Santorin and Cloud 9’s Robert “Blaber” Huang. Through their excellent understanding of the early game, all three have been able to open the map for their respective teams to run wild. Yet when their team doesn’t perform as well or individually they make mistakes, it gives the perception that they’re dispensable.
But for Spica, he hasn’t necessarily proven he isn’t dispensable. At least not yet.
Spica has yet to find that next level to his game, the chain of performances that secures his status at the top of the table. He’s become a player that is beloved for his charisma and protected because of his youth and potential yet time is passing. While being one of North America’s brightest talents, what that talent truly is isn’t necessarily understood just yet.
And it is what makes the next weeks intriguing to watch. We don’t necessarily know what his future holds. We don’t know if he’ll be the face of TSM League of Legends— and we don’t even know if he’ll be on TSM after this season.
But for now, we can only watch. We can only analyze from our armchairs.
The next few weeks could be very telling of what will potentially happen. TSM faces Evil Geniuses and Dignitas this week. And the week after, against Cloud9 and FlyQuest, may just be the proving point on the season, finishing the first half of the round-robin.
Fans will turn on the broadcast to see their favorite team donning the black and white uniforms yet all eyes will be on the jungler. It’s showtime for Spica.